Isidore-Lucien Ducasse’s surrealist prose poem Les Chants de Maldoror is centered around “a figure of absolute evil who is opposed to God and humanity, and has renounced conventional morality and decency” (Wikipedia). The work is accompanied by a public warning, and concludes with the murder of a youth. As the inspiration for Obsequies‘ debut, this is daunting material. Given this starting point, one might expect the music to sound evil, or at the very least, nihilistic ~ but the surrealist influence is more apparent. The Belgian artist even brackets the set with tracks titled “Grace” and “But Beautiful …”, with no apparent irony.
The battle waged on Organn seems less between good and evil as it does between order and chaos, a reflection of the opening words of Genesis: the earth formless and desolate, covered by a raging sea. There’s a lot going on here, from washes of drone to fragments of grime to scissors of dialogue. The album is nearly industrial, seeming to warn of annihilation within and without the soul. But the beauty is in the order itself. There’s never a moment when everything falls apart, although the pieces threaten to poke through the plastic and the waves press against the boundaries. It’s as if Obsequies is telling us that everything is in control, even when it seems like it isn’t. By using surrealism as a filter, the artist reflects the world from an unusual angle, relying on piano only at the end (albeit with occasional dissonant chords).
The bulk of the album is more tumultuous, an aural echo of Dali, who was himself influenced by Les Chants. While some might consider the artist’s work to be non-sensical, with its melting clocks and towering, distorted figures, his paintings contain great balance in color and frame. The same is true of Organn. A club tempo struggles to gasp air in “Languish”, but is defeated again and again by stray percussion and dying machines. There’s just not enough oxygen to go around. Yet at the end, beats recede to make room for crackle and bells. Then there’s “Asthme”, the intense, grime-edged, stereo-laden preview track. The contrast between order and chaos is most apparent here, especially when a song pops up mid-piece, only to be smacked down like Whac-A-Mole. Obsequies calls the album “a record about love and duality”, and one can imagine the advance and retreat of a relationship in the cooing voice versus the maelstrom of drums. Love can pull us from the brink, and its collapse can push us over. But even then a torched, fragile beauty remains ~ the beating heart of Obsequies’ emotional apocalypse. (Richard Allen)